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Ásbyrgi

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It was an early Monday morning when we visited the horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi. We were all alone in the park and during the two hours we spent there, we hardly spoke a word. It’s the kind of place which robs your voice.

Ásbrygi

Iceland is a country full of bizarre natural wonders, and Ásbyrgi is yet another. The canyon defies logic. You’re walking through a forest, when suddenly there’s this massive cliff wall towering 100 meters into the air, encircling you on three sides. There’s a pond at its foot, into which a small waterfall is trickling. And, while you should be concentrating on the sheer magnificence of the scene, you can’t stop wondering … how did something like this form in the first place?

Modern-day geologists have an answer for us. Something about catastrophic glacial flooding swiftly carving a chunk out of a relatively warm lava bed. But I prefer the origin story from Norse mythology. Ásbyrgi is believed to be the place where the horse of Óðinn, Thor’s father, stamped one of his eight hooves down onto the earth. It would explain the shape, and the pool at the base of the cliff looks just like a rain puddle collected in the hoof-print.

There’s a network of trails around Ásbyrgi, and a few excellent lookouts from which you can take in the scene. We only had a couple hours, and so stuck to those which were easiest to reach. With more time, we’d have been able to climb to the top of the cliff, or even scale Eyja, a giant rock island which sits in front of the horseshoe. There’s also a popular multi-day hike leading from Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss.

Regardless of how much time you have, it’s worth going out of your way to see Ásbyrgi. It’s an area of sublime beauty, especially in autumn when a thick forest of birch and fir trees have turned colors, and was one of the surprise highlights of our trip around Iceland.

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October 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm Comments (4)

Þingvellir – The Historic Heart of Iceland

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Reykjavík may be the capital, but the rift valley of Þingvellir (pronounced “thing-vet-lir”) is the true heart of Iceland. Over a thousand years ago, the country’s first parliaments were convened here, adding historical significance to an area of unbelievable natural beauty.

Nomansland Iceland

Þingvellir lies right along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and European continental plates are pulling apart from each other. It’s unlikely that the 10th-century Icelandic councilmen understood tectonic theory when they selected Þingvellir for their yearly assembly, the Alþing, but they couldn’t have chosen a more impressive setting, nor one more symbolic. This is, after all, the spot where Iceland is literally growing.

Our short walk through the park began at the lookout near the visitor center, where we had a great view over the valley. Not far off, we saw the Þingvallavatn Lake (Iceland’s largest), lava cliffs, and narrow rifts like scars scratched across the earth. As the plates drift apart, the rifts are becoming bigger and, standing here, you can almost see the growth happening. It leaves you with a very vivid sense of the earth’s instability.

From the lookout, a path leads down into the Almannagjá gorge, marking the eastern edge of the North American continental plate. We walked along the canyon wall until reaching the Öxaráfoss waterfall. During the days of the Vikings, the Öxará river was redirected here, so that it would splash down into the canyon near the Alþing and provide drinking water for participants.

Þingvellir Waterfall

From Öxaráfoss, we left the cliff and went further into the valley until our progress was blocked by the fissures which have opened in the earth. With amazingly clear blue water filtered through miles of lavastone, you want to jump right in… and in fact, you can. It was inside one of these fissures that we had recently been snorkeling.

Our path now led to the Þingvallakirkja Church. Although the present wooden building was only erected in 1859, this has always been one of Iceland’s oldest and most important churches. While there’s not much to see inside, the front yard is occupied by a lovely cemetery and, around back, you’ll find an elevated, circular grave which houses the bones of two of the country’s favorite poets.

Þingvellir is the first stop on the “Golden Circle” tour and we left the park immediately after visiting the church, in order to have time for Geysir and Gullfoss. Þingvellir has a lot to reward a longer stay, with plenty of hiking trails and opportunities to fish, dive or go horseback riding. It’s fascinating for both its unique geology and its history. And on top of that, it’s simply a beautiful place.

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We booked our rental car from SADcars for this trip!

Þingvallavatn Lake
Bigggest Lake Iceland
Iceland 2012
Þingvellir Viewing Spot
Iceland Blog
Iceland Great Photos
Þingvellir Blog
American and European continental plate
Þingvellir Blog
Iceladn Pulling Apart
Iceland Flag
Iceland Nature
Þingvellir Waterfall
Öxaráfoss waterfall
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Iceladn Fissure
Continental Plates Iceland
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August 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm Comments (5)
sbyrgi It was an early Monday morning when we visited the horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi. We were all alone in the park and during the two hours we spent there, we hardly spoke a word. It's the kind of place which robs your voice.
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